Dick Vitale The V Foundation for Cancer Research, a top-rated cancer research charity, and ESPN Hall of Fame Sportscaster Dick Vitale were pleased to announce that the 16th Annual Dick Vitale Gala has raised over $5 million for pediatric cancer research. Held on May 7 at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, the Gala hosted supporters and celebrities to further groundbreaking advancements in childhood cancer research. Flsar 050921 Sp Gala 13

Too often in our culture we wait until a person is no longer with us to sing their praises without qualifier or agenda. 

Tragedy has in fact invoked this particular tribute of Dick Vitale, the preeminent college basketball commentator across multiple generations. But Dickie V., who revealed his vocal cord cancer diagnosis on July 12, took cancer to Upset City before to return to ESPN basketball broadcasts. 

A basketball-watching nation will be cheering him on his fight to put on the headset again in the 2023-24 season. 

Vitale belongs to a most exclusive broadcasting club — and not just the fraternity of announcers who can boast an appearance in Naked Gun on their resumes. 

Vitale is part of a club who can be accurately deemed the voice of a sport, a talent worthy of inclusion on a sports broadcasting Mount Rushmore.

Longevity certainly contributes to such status. Vitale called his first game on ESPN in 1979, just months after the network launched, and remained the network’s A-team college basketball commentator for the better part of 40 years. 

He endured through constant growth, programming changes and shifts in ownership, serving as a tentpole in an era when the Worldwide Leader was broadcasting a cocaine smuggler competing in speed-boat races and remaining a key talent after billion-dollar deals became the network’s norm. 

Of course, no one lasts as long in TV as Vitale has without being memorable. He’s certainly been that. Any college basketball die-hard worth their salt knows the acronym PTP’er, can recite the S-words that make up a Three-S-Man, and is well aware a Diaper Dandy has nothing to do with Huggies. 

Vitale has coined more phrases than E-40, and done so with an infectious delivery that imprints itself on your psyche. 

So unique and so entertaining is Vitale’s presentation style, your author integrated a Dick Vitale into a stand-up comic set at an elementary-school talent show in the mid-1990s.  

He’s comparable to the modern-day voice of Major League Baseball, Joe Buck, in that each were at times polarizing, but both were just too damn meaningful not to win over even some of the most ardent haters. 

I can write that with some authority, having been a detractor once myself. 

Growing up a college basketball junkie and a fan of…well, any team but Duke…I considered Vitale to be “Dukie V.” The derisive nickname implying Blue Devils homerism of the longtime color commentator and former coach went viral in an era predating social media. 

The moniker gained enough traction that by the 2004-2005 season – amid heated chatter in college hoops circles that Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire was a better 3-point shooter than Duke’s J.J. Redick but the latter garnered far more national attention – the Wildcats’ Hall of Fame coach, the late Lute Olson, referred to Vitale publicly as Dukie V. 

It was the kind of comment that in this age, no matter intent or context, would be aggregated on dozens of outlets with a headline declaring, Coach O Throws Shade at Dick Vitale

But in the touching eulogy Vitale wrote for Olson upon the coach’s death three years ago, the commentator made mention of the “Dukie V.” shoutout. The two had a laugh about it, Vitale wrote, and in a bit of candor, acknowledged the reputation came from his working so many Duke broadcasts. 

As the child of the ‘90s who got into watching basketball with my parents just as Duke transformed from hoops’ Buffalo Bills into the game’s Dallas Cowboys – and growing up decidedly not a Blue Devils fan – I was predisposed to assuming Vitale was a Duke fan. 

Really, though, Vitale is a fan of college basketball – the fan of college basketball. And as an especially demonstrative voice with an unbridled passion, Vitale was going to be loud and excited calling any great team or outstanding player. 

He just happened to coincide with an era when Duke became the A-1 great team. Vitale also coincided with ESPN solidifying college basketball as a national sport. 

The network’s initial foray into covering the game was hardly responsible for making college basketball popular. The NCAA commanded big money for postseason rights, and was a much bigger TV hit than the NBA by the time ESPN launched on cable.  

What’s more, college basketball broadcasts offered a deep catalog of credible events to air, far more likely to attract new subscribers than World’s Strongest Man competitions or cocaine-smuggler speed-boat races. 

But throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, ESPN presented regular-season college basketball like the biggest damn event in the world. It helped to have a genuine cheerleader for the sport on so many of the marquee broadcasts, because Vitale brought an enthusiasm that can’t be faked. 

One moment in which Vitale’s genuine love for college basketball hit me wasn’t on a broadcast. Before the 2016 National Championship Game between North Carolina and Villanova – arguably the greatest National Championship Game ever – I watched Vitale trot over to a group of Villanova students to take pictures, join in cheers and soak up the atmosphere like he was at his first Final Four.

It was a moment that, for me, crystallizes why so many of us love college basketball even if the NBA is a higher caliber of hoops: There’s an aura to the game, a kind of emotional and spiritual bond we forge with it. Vitale embodies that quality. 

And he’s exuded that genuine love for the sport while calling plenty of its most memorable moments. 

Of all the marquee calls Vitale’s been part of, however, the one that resonates most with me in this time is when he introduced his friend and former NC State coach Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPYs – and Vitale’s speech upon receiving the award named for Valvano last year. 

In the same way his friend Jimmy V. implored future generations to Never Give Up, be assured Dickie V. won’t give up in his fight. Much like he’s cheerled for college basketball over these last 44 years, those in and around the game are now cheering for Dick Vitale and another round of Dipsy Doo Dunkeroos. 

Vitale will be back. And that moment will be truly Awesome, Baby.

About Kyle Kensing

Kyle Kensing is a sports journalist in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter The Press Break at https://pressbreak.substack.com.